Gearoid Hegarty 'honoured' by PwC Hurler of the Year Award
By John Harrington
Gearoid Hegarty is the PwC Hurler of the Year for 2020 after an oustanding season for the Limerick hurlers that culminated in one of the great individual displays in an All-Ireland Final when he hit seven points from play against Waterford.
GAA.ie spoke to the St. Patrick's man about why the adversity he overcame earlier in his career has made this award all the more satisfying for him.
GAA.ie: Congratulations on being named PwC Hurler of the Year, Gearoid. A great honour, I'm sure?
Gearoid Hegarty: Absolutely, I'm hugely privileged and pleased because it's such a prestigious award. I was actually looking at a list of previous winners the other day and to say it's an illustrious list would be to put it lightly.
So it's a huge honour to have my name associated with all of those other names.
GAA.ie: A lot of work has to be put in to earn this honour, I presume that makes it all the more satisfying?
GH: I understand that there's also a huge element of luck involved and you need a lot of things to go your way. When I was looking at the list of players who've won it before I noticed how many phenomenal hurlers haven't won it.
So it's a huge privilege, and it's also something that I would have always aspired to winning. My attitude is that somebody has to win it every year, so why not go for it?
GAA.ie: It would have been said to you after the Munster Final and All-Ireland semi-final that you were in the shake-up for Hurler of the Year, which I could easily imagine would bring its own pressure, but that didn't affect you because you saved your best performance for the All-Ireland Final.
GH: That's something that I'm hugely proud of, my consistency throughout the year. I know myself in 2018 I may not have been in Hurler of the Year territory, but after the semi-final I was after having a couple of really strong games and was probably in a position to win an All-Star. Maybe I thought about that too much because I didn't have the best of performances in the All-Ireland Final, or I certainly wasn't hugely happy with it at least.
That didn't matter on the day, obviously, the most important thing in 2018 was getting the job done which we did. But you need these experiences along the way to learn from, to be honest. I'm always trying to learn. Whether it's on bad days when you want to find out what went wrong and what you need to sort out for the next day. And, on good days, what did you do on that day that can help you to play well the next day? So I'm always trying to keep learning.
It has been a really cool journey towards winning this award, but, I suppose, I'm not 27 until August so I'm still hugely determined to get a lot more out of myself in the next couple of years. You don't have too long at the top so when you're playing inter-county hurling you have to achieve as much as you can because it's only a short period of time that you're there.
As I said, it's a really, really nice personal award, but, at the end of the day, it's the All-Ireland medals that are the ones that really count and they're what we'll be focused on again this year coming.
GAA.ie: You don't win these individual awards unless you're part of a really strong collective which this Limerick team is.
GH: Yeah, as I said there's an element of luck to winning it because our motto as a team is to always give the ball to the man in the best position. Some days you just won't be the man in the best position and you won't get the ball and there's nothing you can do about it, it's just going to someone else in a better position. So that's my thinking behind saying there's an element of luck involved in winning an individual award like this.
A lot of of luck went my way in 2020, especially in the latter stages of the championship when it's those important games that generally determine these individual awards. So, yeah, I have a lot team-mates to thank, I suppose, when we get back training. I had a good laugh with Tom Morrissey after the All-Ireland, we'd be very good friends, and there was a good bit of slagging over and back in terms of assists and all that kind of stuff.
As I said, it's a class thing to win, but winning the All-Ireland as a team is much more enjoyable. It's a team sport at the end of the day, I saw that over the lockdown which I found quite tough. I play team sport for a reason. If you played an individual sport you wouldn't have anyone to really celebrate your achievements with whereas when you win an All-Ireland you have 35 other fellas and backroom staff and management to celebrate with which makes it so much more enjoyable.
GAA.ie: You winning this award will mean an awful lot to your family.
GH: It will, I suppose. For myself as a player you don't want to get too hung up on individual awards. Don't get me wrong, it's nice to get praised, but I suppose you have to park it and not get too big-headed and just move on and try to earn more praise, that's the most important thing.
But it is really nice for your family. My three sisters and brother are always slagging my mam because she has a bit of a shrine at home on the mantlepiece inside in the sitting room with a few bits and pieces I've won over the years. Moreso in the last couple of years because I didn't win much until three or four years ago in a team sense.
As far as individual awards go, anyone who says they wouldn't like to win one is lying in my opinion, because they're obviously nice to win.
So, yeah, my mother and my father will obviously be hugely delighted when I bring it home. It's a savage thing to win because, as I said, there are some unbelievable hurlers who have never won it which puts it into perspective as to how hard it is to win.
I think it's important to recognise that, that it is an extremely hard thing to win and to maybe allow yourself to be proud of the achievement.
GAA.ie: I'm sure there are many coaches who have worked with you from when you were young who will also take a degree of satisfaction from you winning this award. For every player who gets to the highest level it's a long journey from club to school to county.
GH: Absolutely. As a teacher myself, every day is a school day. I'm always focusing on trying to improve every day. I'm always challenging myself to get better and reflect on the bad days and the good things. You nearly learn more from the bad days than the good days.
I love reading books and watching sports documentaries and taking away snippets and nuggets of information. A lot of psychologists talk about the journey and how the journey is what's important and most enjoyable and not so much the destination.
I did always dream of winning this because it is so prestigious and my attitude was why not me because somebody has to win it. But it's the journey along the way that's the most enjoyable part. Putting in all the hard work and thinking back over all the hard work that it has taken me to get here. And all the bad days that had to happen for me to learn from to get to this moment.
That's the way sport is. The majority of time there's more bad days than good days. We've had some good days in the last couple of years in particular but there were a lot of bad days when I was a bit younger.
I was two years minor and never got near the team. I made only one subs bench in my first year. And then in the year I was a full minor I never made the bench at all and that knocked me for six. Until I was U-21 I didn't really play for Limerick.
I kind of fell out of love with hurling when I was 19 and went away and played football with Limerick for a couple of years. It was John Kiely who coaxed me back into U-21 and we won the All-Ireland U-21 that summer.
It's weird how it goes. Six or seven years ago I wasn't really hurling at all. I remember the 2014 Munster Final when Limerick played Cork below in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and I didn't even go down to the game. It's funny how things change. It's funny how your motivation and your desire to improve...I was just fully focused on football at the time.
Hurling was always my first love and my one true love and it was always burning away inside me. The one thing I wanted to do growing up was just to play hurling with Limerick. It wasn't about winning anything, I just wanted to play hurling for Limerick.
I suppose the stars aligned with that U-21 year and then I was called into the senior panel and the rest is history. But it is funny how things go when you look back on the journey.
GAA.ie: Every year there are plenty of talented young hurlers who fail to make a county minor team and probably find that failure tough to take. I'm sure your story would inspire young hurlers in that position.
GH: Like, I even remember that John Brudair was the Limerick football manager at the time when I was playing both football and hurling one year for Limerick, it was probably 2016. It was January or February and I was getting flogged because I had a game every week. Any time the hurlers had a weekend off I had a football match for Limerick and it was tough going.
It was an eye-opening experience because I was training so hard but I wasn't getting the best out of myself because I was getting flogged every week and wasn't having a chance to recover. You're doing so much hard work and then you're only able to play to three quarters of your ability because you're not fresh going into any game.
I remember sitting down with John Brudair and he put me to the pin of my colour and just said, "Look, you have to choose, it's either hurling or football." John said that shortly before then he was talking to someone who was saying I was nowhere near good enough to hurl for Limerick and that John should be getting me to focus on the football.
So many times over the years I was told I wasn't good enough to play hurling for Limerick. You're too slow, your hurling isn't good enough, and so on and so forth. But that was all motivation for me, I loved proving people wrong. That has been a huge source of motivation for me over the last number of years because I know myself what I'm capable of and it's just trying to get it out of myself that has been the enjoyable part of the journey that I've gone on.
GAA.ie: In terms of that journey, I'm sure you're looking forward now to continuing that journey and getting back in with the rest of the lads on the Limerick panel.
GH: I can't wait, I can't wait. I was actually talking to John Kiely when I met him in RTE and hopefully we can all get back together again soon. It would be great if inter-county GAA could be brought back into the elite sport category. That would be great if that happened sooner rather than later.
Fellas are chomping at the bit now. I know all the lads I've been chatting to in the last week or two are certainly looking forward to getting back at it. I certainly can't wait, and it would be great to play a championship in the summer rather than in the winter like last year.
Hopefully things will open up a small bit sooner rather than later.